Photography Tips

5 Tips for Smoother Photo Shoots

October 14, 2021

I remember in my early photographer days just how nerve-wracking photoshoots could be. It’s not like you can just show up and take a few pictures and call it a day! There are so many things to think about to run smoother photo shoots, from gear, location, and lighting to making sure your clients feel […]

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I remember in my early photographer days just how nerve-wracking photoshoots could be. It’s not like you can just show up and take a few pictures and call it a day! There are so many things to think about to run smoother photo shoots, from gear, location, and lighting to making sure your clients feel comfortable and capturing their most authentic moments and emotions.

Whew, it’s a lot to juggle, on top of trying to make sure everyone has a good time!

Over time, I’ve picked up a few tricks and hacks to ensure smoother photoshoots for all involved, and today I’m sharing the goods with you. I hope that this guide not only helps you feel more confident and prepared for your next photoshoot, but that it also lets you know we all start somewhere and have had to learn as we go!

How to run smoother photo shoots:

Not one photographer gets it all right all of the time, so let that information be freeing for you as you navigate this world of photography! Use these tips for smoother photo shoots and make them your own. You got this, mama!

01. Send your clients everything they need ahead of time.

One of the best things I’ve done for my business is over-communicate with clients from start to finish! From the moment someone inquires with you, it’s key to let them know what to expect as far as timelines, deliverables, your process, pricing … everything!

Especially leading up to the shoot itself, you want to make sure they know if they should bring anything, how to dress or what their family should wear, how long the session will be, the usual order of shots, and any other key info. By giving them all of this upfront, it eliminates the likelihood of confusion or them having to reach out to you a bunch of times leading up to the shoot to ask the same questions everyone else is wondering, too.

A great way to make communication EASY is by putting together a simple welcome guide for clients who book with you. Include any details they might need about styling, how to prep themselves/their families, timeline, what to bring, and so on. You’ll save everyone so much time … yourself included!

02. Set clear expectations from the start.

On that note of over-communicating, it’s important to be open with your clients about everything from the jump, even the uncomfortable things like pricing or “don’ts” that you want them to adhere to.

For example, I ask my clients with kiddos to not entice their kids to participate in a photoshoot by saying they’ll get a treat after it’s done. I’ve seen enough families do this, and guess what happens? The kids can’t WAIT for the shoot to be done so they can get their treat! Go figure, little smarties.

But unfortunately, that means they’re not very present at the shoot itself because they’re so excited for what’s to come after. Instead, I’m open with parents and ask them to resist bribing their kiddos—I try to encourage them that I’m used to kids and personalities of all kinds (I was a teacher, after all!), and I love interacting with them to get them excited to participate.

Parents don’t have to carry that full burden of getting their kids to want to cooperate, and it’s important to me that they know that! Let your clients know exactly how you operate, what your preferences are for the shoot, and what they’re responsible for (which should really just be showing up and having a good time)!

03. Bring back-up & “emergency” supplies.

Now, just because you communicate well doesn’t mean things always run without a hitch. In fact, they rarely go perfectly—but you know this already! In these cases, I like to have a few back-up options to keep things running smoothly. Here are some of my fail-safe supplies:

  • Music and a wireless speaker—to keep the mood light and fun (and get people dancing!)
  • Balloons, blocks, bubbles, or other photogenic toys that kids may want to play with
  • A picnic blanket, cute umbrella, and/or basket to pose families with
  • Small candy (if parents approve) to share with kiddos during the shoot

Encourage your clients to bring anything they love, too, like flowers, confetti, hats, etc.!

04. Find a way to connect with each person.

This may be the most important tip of all! People feel comfortable when they trust you, and we build trust off of connection. Showing up and not saying much and then starting the session might not make people feel super at ease in front of the camera.

Before jumping in, try to spend a minute talking with each person there (kids, too!) to make them feel seen and comfortable. Of course, if you’re shooting a wedding or some other big event, this is more challenging, but even lending a quick compliment before snapping away is a fast way to help someone feel more relaxed in front of the camera!

05. Go in with a plan of action.

My most challenging shoots are the ones where I don’t have a plan, even if it’s just a loose one. It helps going in knowing what shots you want to get, what you’ll do if the weather gets bad, what you need to bring (gear, extras, etc.), different spots you want to get shots at your location, and any other important details. Even if the plan changes, it’s helpful knowing what you need and want to achieve by the end of a shoot, and having a plan helps make sure you don’t forget anything important. 

I hope this little list helps you feel so much more equipped to run smoother photoshoots that leave everyone happy and fulfilled by the end of it (yourself included)! I can’t wait to see and hear all about the awesome shoots you run with these tips!

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I’m Jillian Goulding, a photographer and educator raising babies and building my life in Sacramento, CA.

Over the years, I’ve transformed my side hustle into a thriving photography business that has taken me and my camera to the beaches of San Francisco Bay, the pages of People Magazine, and the screens of Extra TV.

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